CHAMPCAR/CART: Cleveland: Team Rahal Track Talk

HILLIARD, OH . . . The legendary Champ Car career of Bobby Rahal began in 1982 when he drove for Jim Trueman's Truesports team and won the Rookie of the Year award. The season got off to an auspicious beginning for the fledgling team when they ...

HILLIARD, OH . . . The legendary Champ Car career of Bobby Rahal began in 1982 when he drove for Jim Trueman's Truesports team and won the Rookie of the Year award. The season got off to an auspicious beginning for the fledgling team when they posted DNF's at Phoenix, Indianapolis and Milwaukee. Things came together for the young team over the July 4th weekend at Cleveland when the team qualified second and won its first race, the inaugural Grand Prix of Cleveland. The win for Rahal was the first of 24 Champ Car victories. Twenty years later that initial CART triumph still holds special meaning for Rahal. "At the time I couldn't believe it. When you look at who was in the race - Al Unser, Sr., Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford and I think A.J. (Foyt) was in that race - these guys had been American heroes. They had countless Indy 500 wins among them and everything else, and then to go out and to beat them was something special." "We started out the year in Phoenix and it was a disaster. This was a team that had no Indy car experience, let along any experience on an oval. We had CanAm and other forms of road racing experience, but we didn't have any oval track experience. When we got to Cleveland all of a sudden everybody was in our area of expertise with regards to road racing, so we went to Cleveland believing that we would be competitive. Of course, what made it all the more special is that I'm from the Cleveland area, my father and mother are Cleveland natives, Jim Trueman, who I drove for was from Cleveland and the guy who owned the cars was from Cleveland. So it was literally a Cleveland team in a lot of respects and the press and everybody really latched on to that." "Then for us to win the race it was one of those things that I guess Hollywood might write. You know, the hometown team wins the hometown race; it just couldn't have been any better. It was really from that race that I went from being someone who people knew about from the Indy car racing circles to all of a sudden being seen as a winner and certainly the perception about me as a driver changed in racing." Rahal would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award in the series in 1982 as he finished second to Rick Mears in the championship. Rahal would go on to win three CART championships (1986, 1987 and 1992) and would retire among the career leaders in virtually every statistical category.

VASSER LOOKING TO BUILD MOMENTUM FROM TORONTO RESULT 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser has endured a frustrating season collecting four DNF's in the first seven races. Vasser rebounded with a strong sixth place finish at Toronto last week and the California native hope to parlay the result into the start of a points run. "We needed points, but we can't be content with just finishing in or near the top-five.," said Vasser. "The Shell team has a hole to dig out of so I need to win and finish on the podium. Cristiano is having a great season but we are still only eight races into the championship. If we can avoid the kind of problems that have haunted us this season there is no reason we can't score points and claw our way back in to the points race." Vasser has a pair of top-five results in nine previous races at Cleveland. Last year Vasser collected one of his five top-five results at Cleveland. Vasser is a two-time pole winner at Cleveland having captured the pole position at Burke Lake Front Airport in 1996 and 1998.

JOURDAIN LOOKING FOR FORM IN QUALIFYING Michel Jourdain Jr. has posted a breakout season in 2002 posting career bests at every venue this season en route to a fourth place standing in the CART championship. Jourdain has never been lower than fourth in the points and actually led the championship for the first time in his seven year Champ Car career following Milwaukee. This week Jourdain comes to Cleveland looking for his first points paying result at the Burke Lakefront Airport. The last two years Jourdain has been victimized by first lap incidents. "Every driver in CART loves to race at Cleveland. The track is wide and fast and it is one of the few places where we can really go race wheel-to-wheel. With this being my first race in Ohio for Team Rahal I know this will be a busy week but it will also be very exciting. I have seen the number of fan that come to the track with Rahal stuff over the last few years at Cleveland so I know we will have a lot of people supporting us." After posting a career best road qualifying effort in the season opener at Monterrey and a solid top-ten start at Long Beach, Jourdain has had trouble in qualifying. "We have struggled over the last couple of weeks but we have still managed to score some points. I know the team is doing everything they can to give me a car that we can run up front with. We have had some problems in qualifying and that is really an area of focus for us right now. The field is so equal it is really hard to race for a podium if you are starting at the back. We had success early in the season in qualifying so we know we can start up front. Now we just have to do it."

PATRICK READY FOR HER SECOND BARBER DODGE RACE

Team Rahal's Danica Patrick will make her second start in the Barber Dodge Pro Series this weekend at Cleveland after finishing seventh last week at Toronto. The 20-year-old who recently signed a multi-year driving contract with Team Rahal will be the team's driver in the Toyota Atlantic series next season. "The conditions at Toronto were dramatically different than when I tested the Barber Dodge car at Sebring a couple of weeks ago," said Patrick. "The car didn't feel the same so we had to make a lot of changes. But that is what this is all about, getting a feel for the car and learning about setting up a car. Bobby has just told me to be patient and to run the race and gain experience. I had never driven a street course until last week so it has been a real learning experience for me."

-rahal-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Mario Andretti , Rick Mears , Gordon Johncock , Danica Patrick , Al Unser , Michel Jourdain